For SIFF this past year, I had the pleasure of screening The Sentimental Engine Slayer, the feature film debut from At the Drive In/Mars Volta's Omar Rodríguez-López (as writer, director, producer, soundtracker, and star—sheesh). I wrote this review of it at the time:
This has all the pedigree of a terrible vanity project—starring and written, directed, produced, and scored by musician Omar Rodriguez-Lopez (guitarist of At the Drive-In and the Mars Volta)—but it’s in fact an impressive debut film from an apparent artistic polymath. Barlam (Rodriguez-Lopez) is an indeterminately young man enduring a delayed coming of age in the druggy, David Lynchian underworld of El Paso, Texas. Barlam might be murdering prostitutes (shades of the mass murders of Ciudad Juarez, which At the Drive-In drew attention to with the video for their 2001 single “Invalid Litter Dept.”). He might be sleeping with his sister. But events unfold out of sequence, the imaginary bleeds into the real, and the effect is entirely disorienting. Adding to the unreality is the ghost of Barlam’s dead mother, some hazy Hispanic-American mysticism, and characters who exist only in the half-life/light of computer screens, as well as Rodriguez-Lopez’s expert use of hallucinatory auditory effects.